I had an hour to spare before our tour of the Parliament building in Canberra so I took the opportunity to pop into the National Gallery (only a 20 minute walk from Parliament) to have a look at the iconic series of paintings by the Australian artist Sidney Nolan of the legendary bushranger, Ned Kelly.
The Gallery’s website tells us
Sidney Nolan’s 1946-47 paintings on the theme of the 19th-century bushranger Ned Kelly are one of the greatest series of Australian paintings of the 20th century. Nolan’s starkly simplified depiction of Kelly in his homemade armour has become an iconic Australian image. Highlighting these works makes the point that Australian art is part of the world, with its own stories to tell.
Ned Kelly was a controversial character; a violent criminal to some, including the establishment, but a hero to many. Nolan, who, like Kelly, had Irish roots, clearly fell into the latter category.
There are 25 paintings, displayed in a dedicated room with some related works, which tell the story of Kelly – the events that led him to become an outlaw, his exploits as a bushranger, the battle with the police that led to his capture and trial. They’re painted in a simple, colourful, naïve style, using house paints rather than oils. Kelly is depicted in his armour, in a simplified way, but it is as if the armour is part of him. His helmet becoming his head and the eye slit going right through.
The paintings are also noted for the way they depict the Australian landscape
They’re fantastic paintings and I’m glad I managed to find the time to see them. The whole series can be seen on the Australian National Gallery Website.
We would come across Ned Kelly again a few more times during our holiday, while we were in Melbourne.